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August 28, 2015

Message from grieving mom to daughter’s school: stay strong

A week after Janiya Castleberry's death, her middle school teacher was struck and killed while jogging

08292015_janiya_castleberry2 Source/

Janiya Castleberry, a seventh-grader at Helen A. Fort/Newcomb Middle School, is seen at school with her mother, Colette Davis.

The South Jersey teacher who died Thursday when she was hit by a truck while jogging was the first teacher to visit the bedside of a student who was severely injured in a car accident in early August and died a week ago.

Allison McGinnis, a Helen A. Fort/Newcomb Middle School teacher who loved to run, and her student, Janiya Castleberry, a 7th grader who loved to sing and dance, had a tight bond, said Janiya's mother, Colette Davis. 

McGinnis was "a beautiful, beautiful teacher," Davis said.

Janiya Castleberry was “like the morning sun, always very happy....she always tried to help her fellow students if they were struggling with something. She loved school. She loved to learn.” – Colette Davis, her mother

Severely injured after her older sister lost control of the family car when a tire blew and the vehicle flipped over in Southampton, Burlington County, Janiya was in a coma at Cooper University Hospital for several days. 

McGinnis “was the first teacher to come see Janiya and me and when she walked into the hospital room and saw my baby,” Davis said, her voice choking, “she broke down and cried because it was so hard to see her with all those tubes and her hair shaven because she had a head injury.” 

RELATED ARTICLE: South Jersey school reeling over death of student and teacher

Even though Janiya was in a coma, McGinnis wanted to be there because people in such conditions can be aware of those around them and McGinnis “wanted Janiya to know that she was there for her,” Davis said. Janiya died Aug. 20.

The school community was hit with more tragic news this week.

082815_Castleberry McGinnis
McGinnis, seen at left with Janiya, was killed Thursday after she was hit by a truck while jogging in Southampton, leaving the middle school in shock and grief and struggling with the loss of a popular teacher and beloved student in such a short period of time.

Davis described her daughter, the youngest of four, as “like the morning sun, always very happy. She loved to sign and dance, she loved to put on a show for someone. And she always tried to help her fellow students if they were struggling with something, she loved school, she loved to learn.”

“Ms. McGinnis was a beautiful, beautiful teacher," Davis said. "But all the teachers there are. You know how there are some teachers who just teach the curriculum and just don’t care. They all care at that school. I can’t tell you how much love and support I’ve received from the teachers and that's because they all loved” Janiya.

The Davis family, three girls including Janiya and one boy, is now trying to recover from the tragedy. The older daughter involved in the crash escaped with cuts and bruises, but is grief-stricken.

“No one wants to be driving a vehicle and have an accident and lose their sister,” Davis said. The family is now without a car and because she took a leave of absence from her job as a residential counselor at a treatment center for troubled youths to look after Janiya and her family, Davis' sisters have started a GoFundMe account to help with mounting bills.

But Davis said she will “definitely attend” McGinnis’s funeral services as the teacher attended her daughter's earlier last week.

Davis also had a message for the faculty, staff and students at Helen A. Fort/Newcomb Middle School:

“I know that this is hard for all of them, losing one of their favorite teachers and a good friend with Janiya, but they should stay strong and have a productive year because that's what [Janiya and Ms. McGinnis] would have wanted for them.”